A Review of the Album “Adult Film”
Ben Allen, music editor
Over the last two decades Tim Kasher has established himself as one of the most literate, self-aware and influential songwriters of a generation. His lyrical content in his two primary projects (Cursive and The Good Life) is so brutally honest and introspective that it borders on self-absorbed. Kasher and the main character in his songs appear to be the same person; a man full of self doubt, aware of his flaws, but unapologetic about sharing them in a public format. He struggles endlessly with relationships, mortality and what could be considered universal existential questions.
Kasher’s songwriting has constantly evolved over the career of both of his bands. Cursive began as a melodic emo-core group, and gradually shifted to something more polished and rock-oriented. The Good Life started as a solo outlet for his brand of singer/songwriter folk ballads but morphed into a full band playing “pop,” or at least music too safe for Cursive albums.
Kasher may have peaked artistically and commercially around the time of Cursive’s “The Ugly Organ” (2003) and The Good Life’s “Album of the Year” (2004). “The Ugly Organ” was a hard rock masterpiece of a concept record with recurring musical themes and lyrics about love and Kasher’s ugly organ (his heart). “Album of the Year” was a much more mellow affair, but also a concept recording in that it traced the evolution and dissolution of a relationship over a twelve month period. Both records received well deserved critical praise and sold impressively.
Work began on “Adult Film” in 2011, shortly after recording Cursive’s last album “I Am Gemini.” While “Gemini” was an intricately intertwined concept record, “Adult Film” is looser in concept. Much like his first solo album “The Game of Monogamy,” we find a contemplative man adjusting to domesticity, reflecting on growing up and wondering what this life is all about. First track “American Lit” is instantly memorable and lyrically self-aware in that Kasher discusses what is expected of him on this very album. He lets us know that despite not being sure what his story is, he’s certain it will be “tragic and dramatic and personal and universal.” First single “Truly Freaking Out” is also a highlight. The pop feel of the song is cleverly contrasted by Kasher’s apocalyptic, death-fearing words.
Like the lyrical content the instrumentation on “Adult Film” is loose and widely varied. “Lay Down Your Weapons” mostly consists of Kasher’s gentle voice over a bed of ambient drones and guitar noise. Elsewhere, “Life and Limbo” is an aggressive rocker with atonal guitar, something you might find in the early Cursive catalog. “Where’s Your Heart Lie” is a light, melancholy ballad with gently played piano and soft vocals by Kasher and Laura Stevenson. Perhaps the most impressive composition is “You Scare Me To Death.” Kasher’s words describe someone he is so in love with he’s certain she’s not real, or that it won’t last long. “It’s like I’ve seen a ghost,” he croons over lightly plucked guitar. The saw (sounding very much like a theremin) along with Kasher’s secondary whispered vocal track adds to the song’s creepy, mysterious feel. Unlike “Truly Freaking Out,” the instrumentation perfectly mirrors Kasher’s lyrics.
For most men, a midlife crisis might consist of growing a ponytail, buying a Corvette and dating someone twenty years younger. Kasher has found it more cathartic to express this stage in his life though written word and musical compositions. Listening to Kasher’s misery may not be a pleasurable experience, but it’s compelling. It’s as if we’re hearing a therapy session for this middle-aged, confused man. There’s something oddly comforting in this voyeuristic position.
Kasher’s music and thematic, intellectual lyrics continue to intrigue on this slightly confused release. At times it seems a more sparse, solely acoustic recording would have been more appropriate for this type of difficult subject matter. While he may require a catastrophic personal tragedy to inspire another masterpiece (see Cursive’s “Domestica”), “Adult Film” satisfies on a number of levels.
Rating: 8 out of 12 cans of PBR!!!